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Disability awareness promoted

Amanda Gray | Thursday, September 3, 2009

Notre Dame’s School of Architecture hosted Accessibility Awareness Day on Wednesday, providing students the option to use a wheelchair for a day and bringing awareness to the difficulties endured by people living with disabilities, according to a University press release.

“The initiative is intended to elevate the awareness of architectural barriers that pose challenges to persons with disabilities and discuss the architect’s role in barrier-free design,” Associate Vice President and University Architect Doug Marsh said.

Students spent part of the day experiencing what it’s like to be disabled – either on crutches, in a wheelchair or with a visual impairment, Coordinator of Disability Services Scott Howland said.

“My office helps coordinate the simulation events by obtaining the wheelchairs and crutches from Alick’s Home Medical,” Howland said.

All fourth-year Architecture students were required to participate in the activity, Howland said.

“I also speak with the students before they start their day,” Howland said. “I want them to understand that while they will be spending a day in a wheelchair, on crutches, or with a visual impairment, this is not truly what it is like to have a disability. Individuals with disabilities have spent much time adapted and learning to compensate for the limitations caused by a disability.”

The School of Architecture works closely with a Chicago-based firm, LCM Architects, which specializes in “barrier-free facilities design,” Marsh said. Two LCM architects also gave an afternoon presentation to the participating students.

Because the program is so new, judging the impact on students is tricky, Howland said.

“[The impact on students] is hard to see since this is only the second year, but students who participated last year said it has made them think how they can better incorporate accessibility into their designs,” he said.

Notre Dame is not the first university to hold such a day, Kara Kelly, director of communications in the School of Architecture, said.

“Most universities and colleges have an Office of Disability Services. They host such events to show how difficult it can be to do day-to-day activities while on crutches, in wheelchairs or not being able to see,” Kelly said. “Many of us able-bodied citizens take getting around easily and quickly for granted.”

Kelly said that a day like this is intended to remind students to include accessibility for those with disabilities in their building designs. Students will rethink blueprints to include alternative ramp entrances and other accessibility issues, she said.

“Part of being an engaged member of one’s community is looking out for everyone, including those with physical impairments,” Kelly said. “As much as the layout and design of a building can help facilitate the capacity to move freely about, the better we all are in serving as active participants in the world around us.”